Murder by Death’s show at Bar Deluxe on Wednesday night was filled with whiskey, rarely performed older songs and never-before-heard tunes from their pitch-black new album, Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon.
4OnTheFloor kicked off the night with a rowdy, rockin’ set before Ha Ha Tonka took the stage and blew everyone away with their smooth four-part harmonies and tight musicianship. Highlights included “Hangman” and “Caney Mountain” from Buckle in the Bible Belt, and “Usual Suspects” and “The Humorist” from Death of a Decade. The four-piece brought pure unbridled joy to their set, with plenty of stomping cowboy boots onstage and in the audience alike.
Murder by Death started off the whiskey-soaked evening with “Kentucky Bourbon” and “As Long As There’s Whiskey in the World,” both from Good Morning, Magpie. Front man Adam Turla was never without a glass of bourbon in his hand between songs, and was a powerful force to be reckoned with his booming vocals and intricate guitar work. Cellist Sarah Balliet was spot-on with her beautiful, rich melodies and lap steel. Drummer Dagan Thogerson and bassist Matt Armstrong kept the backbone of the set strong and steady, while finding innovative, creative methods of crafting interesting sounds—at one point, Matt used a beer bottle as a slide on his bass, creating weird, spacey squeals. New member Scott Brackett added a welcome sonic layer to the band’s Americana moodiness, contributing piano, accordion, backing vocals, trumpet and theremin.
In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the release of Murder by Death’s first album, Like the Exorcist, But More Breakdancing, in July, the set list for the band’s current tour features several of the band’s early, rarely performed songs. Tunes including “I’m Afraid of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” “Killbot 2000” and “Until Morale Improves (the Beatings Will Continue)” were all nostalgic looks back at Murder by Death’s early days as a college-town band.
Murder by Death has a new album, Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon, coming out Sept. 25, and fans were lucky to get a preview of several new tunes. “Hard World”—about two girls who disappeared in the band’s hometown of Bloomington, Ind.—and “I Came Around” are in perfect keeping with the band’s aesthetic of upbeat instrumentation and feel tempered with dark lyrics and subject matter. One unabashedly gloomy track, “Go to the Light,” will appeal to fans of the band’s most desolate songs, like “Pillars of Salt” and “Three Men Hanging.”
One of the coolest moments of the night was when Brackett unveiled the modifications he made to his theremin, namely, making the instrument shoot off sparks when played! The effect was spectacular during “Dynamite Mine,” with the stage lights dimmed, and the talented multi-instrumentalist looked like a steampunk-style mad scientist in his black goggles.
I left the show with slight hearing damage and a powerful Bulleit bourbon buzz, after an encore of “Spring Break 1899," "Those Who Left/Those Who Stayed" and “The Devil Drives.” The hardcore Murder by Death fan in me was stoked that they played so many old songs, but I look forward to their gorgeous new album with as much excitement.